Out on a Limb
A Monthly Newsletter from Martha Clark Scala
Invest in bringing joy back to your life.
July 2008
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July 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ego

My parents spent some of their first years of marriage in Europe. Based for a time in Brussels, Belgium, they acquired a fairly good command of conversational French. This second language came in handy when they needed to converse amongst themselves within earshot of their three children. Naturally, this practice wrought curiosity … what were they saying? We also had pottery with French sayings on them. For example, “On a toujours vingt ans dans le coeur.” Translation: one is always 20 years old in one’s heart.

My mother, who was toujours vingt an dans le coeur, had a favorite French phrase. She pulled it out of her goody-box when one of us got feedback that wasn’t 100% favorable. “Chacun à son goût,” she’d say, with such confidence. Phonetically, it sounds something like this: “shock-un ah sawn goo.” Translation: to each his/her own taste. This gem-phrase comes in handy for a number of situations where you think you did something well but the feedback, however delicately delivered (or not), tells you that you did something poorly, or lousy.

If the feedback you get is 90% favorable, and 10% points out some weaknesses, do you tend to see that 10% in bold, italicized print, with a font that’s two times larger than anything else? It is our ego that fixates so fully on whether something is good or bad, and which has a hard time entertaining the possibility that something might have positives, negatives and so-so’s. The challenge is in knowing when to make constructive use of the difficult feedback, and when to say to yourself, “chacun à son goût.”

So if Ego is the Problem …

You may conclude that the solution to this problem is to eliminate the Ego. Not so fast! Ego has both positives and negatives, too, so it’s not advisable to jettison it out of your psyche just because it is problematic at times. This would be equivalent to deleting a first draft of a business memo or piece of creative writing just because someone points out that it has problems and needs work. Perhaps a half-measure is more appropriate: rather than eliminate the Ego, why not change your relationship with it? What would it be like to say to Ego, “You’re not the boss of me!” (I wonder what the French translation of that phrase is!) What would it be like to change the balance of power?


What I Hear About Tai Chi

One of the teachings of Tai Chi practice is to invest in loss. With less investment in winning, Ego’s thirst for perfection might be tempered.

At a Tai Chi website originating in the United Kingdom, I found this:

“Attach no significance to praise and your ego will stay quiet.”

The French word for quiet is tranquille. Phonetically, it sounds like this: tron-keel.
Everything sounds better in French, don’t you think? I’ll attach no significance to your agreeing with me, and say, chacun à son goût!


Joy-Gram for July

Try doing something that you believe you are lousy at doing. That means the “I can’t carry a tune out the door” folks get to sing a song in the shower, or the car. That means the “I can’t draw” folks get to play with stick figures and symbols to capture a scene. That means the “I can’t write good prose” folks get to write at least a paragraph for no other purpose than to write it. And while you do this, say to that Ego part of you inside, “you are not the boss of me; I do not need your praise.”


Archives Now Available

Readers have asked me how to find past newsletters at my website. Until now, they have been invisible! If you would like to re-read or forward past Out On A Limb newsletters, click here.

By no means do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!


Martha Clark Scala, MFT 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303

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